If you are going to celebrate Cubans being themselves this week, you really are better off in Miami, where Cubans are allowed to be themselves, rather than Havana acting the way some vicious grad student economic theory wants them to be. Just one look at Canada and you’ll see that the bilingual state is a terrible idea, on the other hand, Miami is the city that stops all the “this is America, talk American” arguments cold. It may leave the non-Spanish speaker baffled, but is it a fun baffled. As a general rule, always avoid people who would ruin a joke just because they don’t get it.
That most Cuban of drinks, El Draque was named after an English explorer Sir Francis Drake who inspired or invented a “medicinal” cocktail of aguardiente – a proto-rum no longer made for a reason- with mint, lime and sugar. Records are spotty, but somewhere between Drake’s visit to Havana in 1586 and the publication of Sloppy Joe’s Bar Cocktail Manual in 1932 the name got changed to the mojito. Lord only knows why, but by that point Papa Hemingway was mooning around the place and celebrity branding sells.
Traditionally, the mojito was made with the (pre-revolution) hometown favorite Bacardi. Despite its reputation among the undergraduate community, the Bacardi family were innovators in the distillation of rum and transforming a very rough spirit into something the literate might drink. They also instilled a hometown pride in the product – they were the ones who first created the Cuba libre. So proud of their homeland was the Bacardi family that, suspicious of the Batista regime, they started to move assets and faculties to Puerto Rico and the Bahamas. When the revolution hit the tipping point, the family (and the firm) backed rebel groups. This was ill-advised as Castro nationalized all the company’s assets and bank accounts.
The mojito is a something like a Caribbean mint julep, lightened up with a splash of soda water – rather than it’s Kentucky counter-part, which is effectively a bourbon slushy. So, how to make it:
3 mint leaves
1/2 ounce simple syrup
2 ounces white rum
3/4 ounce lime juice, freshly squeezed
Club soda, to top
Garnish: mint sprig
Garnish: lime wheel
You want to slightly muddle the mint with the simple syrup in a shaker, then add the rum, lime juice and ice, and a bit more shaking. Strain into a glass over ice and top with the club soda. Garnish with a mint sprig and lime wheel.
I’ve heard that slapping the mint sprig against the back of the hand releases oils to make it more aromatic. Rubbing between your fingers will achieve the same thing without looking like a ponce.
On a legal post-script: The Cuban people (read: the government) also nationalized Havana Club rum and continued to produce a product. State-side this has caused difficulties with copyrights and distribution. Around the world, the Havana Club sold around the world is made by the Cuban government. The Havana Club sold in the United States, however, is made by Bacardi, to thumb their nose at the handsy revolutionaries, If you’re going to have a Marxist rum, I’d recommend Flora de Caña from Nicaragua.